Strangers

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Lea Thau, formerly of the Moth, started the podcast Strangers about three years ago with the intent of connecting listeners with strangers to make them “strangers no more,” as she puts it.

Early on, I listened regularly. The podcast sounded like a great idea that was just getting its legs. I took a break and went on a listening spree with other shows. Now I’m back and I doubt I’ll leave.

Strangers has improved immensely over its 48-show history. The stories are better. The scoring is better. The edits and mixes are better. And Lea has improved tremendously. She’s writing and voicing more and recording in the field to create scenes. Strangers really goes places – geographically and internally.

On this edition of HowSound, I talk to Lea about her approach to storytelling and what makes a Strangers story. She also chats about the risk involved with her wildly popular, 4-part series “Love Hurts” where she wondered “Why am I not in a relationship?” and turned the mic on herself and a few men who stopped dating her.

Podcasting, Ethics & Standards.

The other day, Joe Richman (of Radio Diaries) and I got into a deep conversation about podcasting and ethics. Joe said a lot of podcasts are independent; they aren’t part of a larger institution that has articulated ethics and standards guidelines. Because of that, podcasters often follow the dictates of their personal ethical and production sensibilities.

To underscore Joe’s point, Lea unabashedly says she’s not a journalist and doesn’t always follow a journalist’s code of ethics. For instance, Lea often shares personal stories and opinions in the podcast – not something you’d typically hear from a journalist who is expected to remain objective.

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Listen to “Outtake 1”

Lea’s practice of occasionally speaking out and offering viewpoints and asides is fairly common in podcasts. There’s a tendency for podcast hosts to share more, be more personal.

And, it seems that podcast producers sometimes shy away from the all-knowing, “voice of God” approach of hosts and reporters in public media. In some cases, they’re more playful. Other times, they’re willing to position themselves as unsure, confused, even vulnerable as Lea was in her series “Love Hurts.”

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Listen to “Outtake 2”

Another practice that might raise an eyebrow in the Ethics and Standards department is Lea’s desire to make sure the characters in her stories are relatable. It’s the mission of Strangers to help connect and build community – to make people “strangers no more.” To accomplish that, she takes great pains to remove comments from interviewees that might cause listeners to pause and question whether they like or trust the person. (For more on this be sure to listen to the whole podcast as well as the outtake below.)

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Listen to “Outtake 3”

Regardless of your opinion of Lea’s production and storytelling methods, Strangers is a must-listen. Indeed, because of her unique approach, the podcast is refreshing, clever, and compelling. You can tell she’s putting everything she’s got into each episode. On top of that, it sounds like Lea’s invited over a friend she’d really like you to meet. She takes us in close. And isn’t that where you want your ears to be?

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